Last week’s events in Zanzibar were truly historic, although we may not know for years or even decades what their final meaning is. What’s important, however, is that we focus on what these events mean to the citizens themselves. The current administration seems too caught up in dissecting the macro-level situation to pay attention to the important effects on daily life. Just call it missing the desert for the sand..
When thinking about the recent turmoil, it’s important to remember three things: One, people don’t behave like migratory birds, so attempts to treat them as such inevitably look foolish. Migratory birds never suddenly shift their course in order to fit with a predetermined set of beliefs. Two, Zanzibar has spent decades being batted back and forth between colonial powers, so a mindset of peace and stability will seem foreign and strange. And three, hope is an extraordinarily powerful idea.
When I was in Zanzibar last August I was amazed by the level of Westernization for such a closed society, and that tells me two things. It tells me that the citizens of Zanzibar have no shortage of potential entrepreneurs, and that is a good beginning to grow from. Second, it tells me that people in Zanzibar are just like people anywhere else on this great globe of ours.
So what should we do about the chaos in Zanzibar? Well, it’s easier to start with what we should not do. We should not ignore the problem and pretend it will go away. Beyond that, we need to be careful to nurture these first inklings of a moderate, modern society. The opportunity is there, but I worry that the path to moderation is so strewn with obstacles that Zanzibar will have to move down it very slowly.
Speaking with a local farmer on the last day of my recent visit, I asked him if there was any message that he wanted me to carry back home with me. He pondered for a second, and then smiled and said, “Makuk yakuk sakuk,” which is a local saying that means roughly, “Every branch of the tree casts its own shadow.”
I don’t know what Zanzibar will be like a few years from now, but I do know that it will remain true to its cultural heritage, even if it looks very different from the country we see now. I know this because, through all the disorder, the people still haven’t lost sight of their dreams.
[And a tip of the hat to: Powerline Blog]